- Richest of the Rich position: 8
- Birth/Death: 1299-1361
- Origin of wealth: Land
- Wealth: £100,000
- Net National Income: £2.6m
- Net National Income Percent: 3.84%
- In Today’s Money: £42.622 billion
Henry of Grossmont, later the first Duke of Lancaster, was Edward II’s right-hand man in the opening phase of the Hundred Years’ War, serving as soldier diplomat and administrator. He took part in fifteen expeditions against the Scots and on the Continent. When not fighting for the king, he was on crusades or headed diplomatic missions.
His wealth stemmed from the four earldoms and estates in 26 counties, inherited from his father, the Earl of Lancaster, which yielded an income of around £8,380 a year. His successful campaigns in France also resulted in huge hauls of booty and valuable estates. In one town, for example, he was granted the right to coinage, and in another area the monopoly over salt.
So important was Lancaster to the king that he was created a duke in 1351, only the second English duke after the Black Prince. He was granted Lancashire as a palatinate at a time when other similar ‘franchises’ were being curbed. His vast wealth was matched by huge spending on everything, ranging from buildings to charity work and retainers. Lancaster was not above ruthlessly increasing his wealth by force, seizing property he liked and removing any obstacles in his path.
But for all his wealth and power, he failed to produce a male heir to carry on his line. He died in 1361, and his wealth went to his surviving daughter, Blanche, who passed on the family wealth to her husband, John of Gaunt (q.v.), who also took the dukedom. Lancaster left a a sizeable fortune of around £100,000, representing over 3.8% of the net national income figure. In today’s money that is an awesome £42.6bn.